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January 28, 2010 -- Seattle PI (WA)

Fed Court Temporarily Suspends Controversial Felon Voting Ruling

By Chris Grygiel, Seattlepi.Com Staff

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


A federal appellate court has agreed to temporarily suspend its controversial ruling that cleared the way for felons in Washington state to vote from prison.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals put their ruling on hold at the request of Secretary of State Sam Reed, Attorney General Rob McKenna and Gov. Chris Gregoire while the state tries to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, Reed's spokesman Dave Ammons said Thursday (check out the secretary of state's blog for more detail).

The inmate challengers did not object to the stay, Ammons said.

"We're optimistic that the high court will agree to hear this case and ultimately will uphold the longtime practice of most states in this country to suspend felons' voting rights when they are in prison or still on parole," Reed said in a statement.

Under the Washington law the federal court ruled on last month, citizens convicted of a felony lose the right to vote until they are released from custody and off of Department of Corrections supervision.

The 2-1 decision by a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel puts those restrictions in doubt, the majority reviewing the voting rights lawsuit found that the state restrictions unfairly penalize minorities.

Attorneys for six Washington state prisoners, Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote, "have demonstrated that police practices, searches, arrests, detention practices, and plea bargaining practices lead to a greater burden on minorities that cannot be explained in race-neutral ways."

Writing in dissent, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Margaret McKeown said that the merits of the case should be heard at trial. Instead, her colleagues on the bench granted a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, effectively settling the case pending an appeal.

Arguing the case, attorneys for the prisoners turned to a series of studies conducted in Seattle and elsewhere in the state showing that racial minorities were charged with crimes at rates far higher than could be explained by differences in levels of criminal activity.

Chris Grygiel can be reached at 206-448-8363 or

Also visit our "WA State News & Activism" section.

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